SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) – Five people died and a Savannah man was arrested in a Memorial Day weekend boat crash on the Wilmington River.
Officials said the crash happened Saturday morning when two center console boats, traveling in different directions, collided near Richardson Creek and the Oatland Island Wildlife Center docks.
There were a total of nine passengers — six in one vessel and three in the other — when the crash occurred.
Four of those who died were from one family: Chris Leffler, 51, a history teacher at Calvary Day School; his wife, Lori, 50; their 23-year-old son Zach, who was living in Alpharetta; and their 17-year-old son Nate, a senior at Calvary.
According to Tybee Island Mayor Shirley Sessions, the Lefflers’ daughter, Katie, survived the crash, along with her friend.
The Georgia Department of Natural Resources (DNR) identified the fifth victim as Robert Chauncey, of Savannah. He was 37.
Meanwhile, according to Mark McKinnon with Georgia DNR, 45-year-old Mark Stegall was arrested Sunday for boating under the influence in the incident.
Chatham County booking records show he was granted a $3,500 bond.
Multiple agencies were involved in the response to the crash, which took place around 10:30 a.m. Saturday.
According to the Georgia DNR, two of the victims were pronounced dead at the scene. Meanwhile, game wardens, Chatham County Marine Patrol, Savannah Fire, Chatham Emergency Services and the U.S. Coast Guard began searching for the missing passengers utilizing sector scan sonar and divers.
The four others involved in the crash were taken to Memorial Health by Chatham EMS or Coast Guard helicopter for treatment of various injuries.
Georgia DNR said around 9 a.m. Sunday, game wardens located the remaining three victims in 14-foot deep water in close proximity to each other. Chatham County Marine Patrol divers assisted in the recovery effort.
Chatham EMS COO Phil Koster said it’s been a difficult Memorial Day weekend already in light of the boat crash and vehicle accidents in the area.
“At this same time period firefighters were out on the water trying to extract victims, the section of U.S. 80 between the drawbridge and Tybee Island had several motor vehicle collisions as well,” Koster said.
“I know everybody views it as a weekend to get away and that’s understood, but always emphasizing safety in regards to travel, whether by boat or by car,” he urged.
Georgia DNR said the agency’s Critical Incident Reconstruction Team is investigating the cause of the crash, which could take anywhere from six to eight weeks to complete.
McKinnon said the results of the investigation could bring additional arrests or charges.